Posts for category: Oral Health

By Jeffrey Mason, DMD
November 17, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health   smoking  
HeresWhySmokingCanBeHazardoustoYourDentalHealth

During his exploration of the Americas, Christopher Columbus encountered a native in a canoe loaded with water, food and a strange bunching of leaves. This marked the first European encounter with tobacco, a discovery that still haunts us to the present day. Today, millions smoke tobacco—and many suffer serious health problems as a result, including dental diseases like tooth decay and gum disease.

The American Cancer Society is sponsoring its 44th annual Great American Smokeout this November 19 when health providers across the country encourage smokers to kick the tobacco habit. Dentists will certainly be among them: Studies show that smokers are five times more likely to lose teeth than non-smokers due to a higher incidence of dental disease. Here's why.

Increased plaque and tartar. The main cause for tooth decay and gum disease is dental plaque, a thin, bacterial film that builds up on teeth. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, can keep plaque and its hardened form tartar from accumulating. But substances in tobacco restrict the flow of saliva needed to curb bacterial growth. This in turn can increase plaque accumulation and the risk for disease.

Hidden symptoms. Your gums often “tell” you when you have early gum disease by becoming swollen and red, and bleeding easily. But if you smoke, you might not get that early warning—the nicotine in tobacco interferes with your body's inflammatory response, so your gums, although infected, may look normal. By the time you find out, the infection may have already spread, increasing your chances of tooth loss.

Slow healing. Nicotine can also constrict the mouth's blood vessels, slowing the delivery of nutrients and infection-fighting antibodies to your teeth and gums. As a result, your body may have a harder time fighting tooth decay or gum disease, and diseased tissues can take longer to heal. Slower healing can also complicate the process of getting dental implants.

Increased oral cancer risk. Although it's not as prevalent as other cancers, oral cancer is still among the deadliest with a dismal 50% survival rate after five years. Smokers are six times more likely than non-smokers to develop oral cancer. But by quitting smoking and other forms of tobacco, you could reduce your oral cancer risk to that of a non-user in just a few years.

Kicking the smoking habit often takes a monumental effort, but it's worth it. Quitting not only improves your overall well-being, it could help you gain healthier teeth and gums. To learn how, see us for an up-to-date dental exam—we can show you how getting Columbus's most notorious discovery out of your life could do wonders for your smile and dental health.

If you would like more information about the effects of tobacco on your oral health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Smoking and Gum Disease” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”

YourTeethDontGrowLikeaSquirrelsSoProtectThemFromExcessiveWear

The humble squirrel—darlings to some, bird feeder-robbing nuisances to others—has its own month. Since 1995, the Squirrel Lovers Club of Chicago has celebrated October as Squirrel Awareness Month to pay tribute to this diverse family of rodents with over 270 species. It's also an opportunity to indulge in our favorite “squirrelly” fact: Squirrels' teeth don't stop growing.

And we do mean grow. A squirrel's four front incisors increase about 6 inches a year—a good thing since squirrels put those teeth through their paces gnawing through hard-shelled nuts and seeds. If they didn't keep growing, you'd see plenty of squirrels with worn-to-nothing front teeth.

We humans have some cause to be envious because, unlike squirrels, our permanent teeth stop growing by the time we reach adulthood. That could be a problem since nearly all of us encounter tooth wear as we age.

And it could be even worse. Bad habits like crunching ice, biting into hard foods or using our teeth as tools can contribute to accelerated wear. Some people also involuntarily clench or grind their teeth, creating higher than normal pressure that can wear down teeth.

Suffice it to say, it's worth the effort to quit conscious bad dental practices to prevent your teeth from wearing faster than normal. A teeth-grinding habit, though, may require more than willpower: We'll need to look at other ways to reduce its effect on your teeth.

First, you may want to try to reduce chronic stress, the top contributor to adult teeth grinding. Better stress management with the help of counseling, relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy can all help reduce the occurrence of this destructive habit.

Such efforts, though, can take time. In the meantime, we may be able to help you reduce the effect of a grinding habit with a custom-made mouth guard. This plastic guard worn in the mouth prevents teeth from making hard contact with each other during grinding, and so it reduces the damaging forces that can wear down teeth.

By the way, if you've already experienced excessive tooth wear, not all hope is lost. We may be able to restore your teeth to normal length with the help of bonded porcelain veneers or crowns. After a thorough evaluation, we can give you options for turning back the “age clock” on your smile.

Our teeth may not continuously grow like squirrels', but we can still protect them from the effects of excessive wear. Good dental practices and habits—and restorative measures when necessary—can keep your smile looking as young as ever.

If you would like more information about tooth wear, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “How and Why Teeth Wear.”

By Jeffrey Mason, DMD
October 08, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral hygiene  
3WaystoProtectYourDentalWorkFromanEarlyDemise

There have been vast improvements over the years in various methods to restore diseased, damaged or missing teeth. A lot of this is due to better restorative materials that are stronger and more life-like.

But given the mouth's hostile environment and the forces generated from chewing, even the most durable restorations could fail. You can, however, improve their durability through proper care and good protective practices.

Here are 3 ways to preserve your dental work and keep it functioning for years or even decades to come.

Daily oral hygiene. Although the bacteria in dental plaque doesn't affect non-living dental materials, it can infect and weaken living tissues around fillings, crowns or implants. Because these tissues often support restorations, an infection could cripple your dental work's survivability. You can prevent this by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and getting regular dental cleanings, to remove plaque and decrease your risk of dental disease.

Dietary choices. You can further prevent dental disease by restricting your consumption of sugar and eating foods rich in calcium and other nutrients. But there's one other thing to keep in mind about what you eat: Some foods can stain veneers and other restorations, as well as natural tooth enamel. If staining occurs at different rates, your dental work could stand out from your natural teeth and look out of place. You can help avoid this by limiting items in your diet known to stain (like wine or coffee) and practicing good oral hygiene.

Poor habits. Many of us have nervous habits like nail-biting or ice-chewing, or an unconscious habit of grinding teeth. Habits like these can damage restorations like composite bonding or veneers. To prevent the chances of this happening, take steps to stop habits and practices that involve biting down on hard objects (including foods like fruits with hard skins). You should also talk to your dentist about solutions to reduce teeth grinding, especially if it's occurring while you sleep.

Above all, keep up your dental visits to regularly monitor the condition of your dental work and obtain repairs or enhancements as needed. By taking care of these valuable restorations, you can help them continue to function and serve your needs for a long time to come.

If you would like more information on maintaining your dental restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Extending the Life of Your Dental Work.”

By Jeffrey Mason, DMD
September 18, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: dry mouth  
TakeTheseStepstoAlleviateChronicDryMouth

You might be noticing some changes as you get older: You're getting winded easier and you're wondering why book or magazine print has suddenly shrunk (it didn't). Perhaps you've also noticed your mouth seems drier more often.

It could be a condition called xerostomia, in which your body isn't producing enough saliva. Older people are more prone to it because it's often a side effect of prescription drugs that can inhibit saliva production. Because seniors tend to take more medications than other age groups, xerostomia is a more common problem for them.

Xerostomia isn't a pleasant experience. More importantly, it's hazardous to your oral health. Saliva contains antibodies that fight bacterial infection, and it also neutralizes mouth acid that causes tooth decay. A lack of saliva puts you at greater risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to alleviate or ease the effects of xerostomia.

Cut back on spicy foods and caffeinated beverages. Spicy or salty foods can irritate your gum tissues and worsen dry mouth symptoms. Because it's a diuretic, caffeine causes you to lose more fluid, something you can't afford with xerostomia. Cutting back on both will improve your symptoms.

Drink more water. Increasing your daily water intake can help you produce more saliva. It also washes away food particles bacteria feed on and dilutes acid buildup, which can reduce your risk for dental disease.

Talk to your doctor and dentist. If you're taking medications with dry mouth side effects, ask your doctor about other alternatives. You can also ask your dentist about products you can use to boost saliva production.

Practice daily hygiene. Daily hygiene is important for everyone, but especially for those whose saliva flow is sub-par. Brushing and flossing clear away dental plaque, the top cause for dental disease. Along with regular dental visits, this practice can significantly reduce your risk for tooth decay and gum disease.

Taking these steps can help you avoid the discomfort that often accompanies xerostomia. It could also help you prevent diseases that could rob you of your dental health.

If you would like more information on dealing with dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Dealing With Dry Mouth.”

By Jeffrey Mason, DMD
September 08, 2020
Category: Oral Health
Tags: oral health  
AShinglesOutbreakCouldInterruptYourDentalCare

A shingles outbreak can be painful and embarrassing. It could also interfere with many areas of your life—including your dental care.

Known medically as herpes zoster, shingles is a viral form of chicken pox. The virus can lie dormant for many years or decades in people that had chicken pox as a child, breaking out later in life (sometimes repeatedly). It's estimated about a quarter of people who had chicken pox as a child, about 90% of adults, will experience a shingles outbreak.

In the beginning, a person with shingles may notice an itching or burning skin irritation, as well as numbness or sensitivity to touch. In time, a red, crusty rash can develop, usually forming a belted or striped pattern on the torso, head or facial areas. The patterning is caused by the virus's disruption of nerves that serve those parts of the body.

Shingles could impact your dental care because it can be contagious early in an outbreak. As such, it can be transmitted to other people via contact with the rash or through airborne respiratory particles. Dental staff members or other patients who are pregnant, undergoing cancer treatment or with other conditions that compromise their immune systems can develop serious health problems if they contract the virus.

If you have an upcoming appointment, it's best then to let your dentist know you've been diagnosed with shingles. If your treatment involves physical contact that could spread the virus, they may wish to reschedule you until the outbreak clears up.

There are ways to hasten the healing process with antiviral treatments like acyclovir or famciclovir. For best results, these treatments should begin within 3 days of a shingles outbreak. There is also a shingles vaccine that can help you avoid an outbreak altogether. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend it for adults over 60.

Having shingles can be painful and stressful, and pose a major interruption of your daily life and routine. With proper management, though, it can be contained so you can get on with your life—and your dental care.

If you would like more information on managing shingles and dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Shingles, Herpes Zoster.”